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Published: Monday, 7/17/2006

Ohio's sex-offender law tough to enforce

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toledo Law Director John Madigan has been pushing city council to adopt an ordinance that would make it a misdemeanor for a sex offender to live within 1,000 feet of a school. Toledo Law Director John Madigan has been pushing city council to adopt an ordinance that would make it a misdemeanor for a sex offender to live within 1,000 feet of a school.
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More than a year after Lucas County's sex offenders received notice they'd have to move away from schools, more than 200 remain within the prohibited 1,000-feet school zones.

Toledo Law Director John Madigan wants to change that.

He wants City Council to pass a municipal code making it a first-degree misdemeanor - punishable by up to six months in jail - for a registered sex offender to live within the restricted zones.

"What's on the books now is not a very good solution," Mr. Madigan said. "We're tired of waiting for the state to fix it."

As it stands now, Ohio law prohibits sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, but prosecutors have said enforcing the rule is an impossibly time-consuming process.

For one thing, it's a civil matter, rather than criminal.

If an offender refuses to move from a buffer zone, a prosecutor or solicitor must file a civil suit, wait for documents to be delivered to the offender, go to court, possibly endure several delays, and finally ask a judge to order an eviction.

Then the case is back where it started - with deputies who must once again track down the offender and once again tell her or him to move.

Mr. Madigan's is a shared frustration.

North of Columbus, Delaware County prosecutor Dave Yost was among the first to file actions against sex offenders living in restricted zones. Six moved, but a seventh offender fought his case to the Ohio Supreme Court before relocating, he said.

The law works smoothly now, Mr. Yost said, only because Delaware County's sex offenders live within legal areas.

In Maumee, three of four offenders who last year lived too close to the school zone voluntarily relocated. The fourth eventually moved - but only after fighting the case for several months in court.

Such cases, said Maumee Law Director Sheilah. McAdams, simply aren't a priority for the court: "It's a cumbersome process and an unfamiliar process."

In April, 2005, the Lucas County sheriff's office identified 273 offenders who were living in the restricted school zones, and sent them letters telling them they would have to move. But more than a year later, the sheriff's office says 229 offenders still live too close to schools - most of them in Toledo.

Take Raymer Elementary School in Toledo. It has eight offenders listed within its 1,000-feet exclusion zone. Lagrange and Franklin elementary schools and Woodward, Libbey, and Central Catholic high schools have seven offenders, according to the sheriff's office.

Surrounding cities don't have the same population crush.

In Sylvania, for example, a single sex offender remains within a school zone. Law Director Jim Moan said he's waiting for all constitutional challenges to the law to play out before pursuing legal action against that offender. And Lucas County prosecutor Julia Bates said her office hasn't filed any actions, either.

"It simply hasn't been an issue for us," she said.

For Toledo, the issue is time and money, Mr. Madigan said.

Last year, then-Toledo Law Director Barbara Herring filed paperwork on 11 offenders.

Of the 11 cases, Lucas County Common Pleas Court judges ordered five offenders to relocate. Several cases, though, were dismissed for lack of action or because the offender moved during the process.

Diverted to other city matters, Mr. Madigan has since filed paperwork asking for a judge's order against only two other offenders.

"When we first filed, we just picked the names [that were the first on the list]. But when we realized what a big job it was, we had to rethink it," Mr. Madigan said.

For the most part, Mr. Madigan said, Toledo's sex offenders are "behaving themselves," and do not face immediate court action.

He has filed only two more cases this year. He filed a case because of neighbors' concerns, and the offender moved.

The other was against 79-year-old Romulus Nedea, also known as Neda in some court records.

Police say Nedea, already having served 16 years in prison for abducting and raping a 9-year-old girl in 1969, walked up behind a 5-year-old girl on May 13 as she shopped for a Mother's Day card with her grandmother.

He allegedly exposed himself to her, and when the grandmother screamed, he bolted to the parking lot. Nedea has denied he was involved, and he is now waiting a trial on a public decency charge.

Mr. Madigan shakes his head when he peruses his case file on Nedea. It's not that he doesn't want to move offenders from children, he said: "If I could find the time, I'd file on all of them."

Under Mr. Madigan's plan, Toledo City Council would have to pass legislation that would make it a first-degree misdemeanor in Toledo to violate the state law that restricts where a sex offender may live.

A bill pending before the Ohio legislature would make the violation a fifth-degree felony, but it's not clear if it will pass.

In Newark, Ohio, city council in February expanded the restricted school zones for sex offenders - to preschools, day-care centers, and the municipal pool, parks, and playgrounds. It makes about seven of Newark's 22 square miles off-limits for sex offenders, said law director Doug Sassen.

Mr. Sassen said he hadn't heard about Mr. Madigan's suggestion, but he said he's confident that a city's sex offender laws will withstand a court challenge as long as they do not conflict with current law.

Toledo Councilman Ellen Grachek, chief of the law and criminal justice committee, echoed Mr. Sassen's words. She, too, hadn't heard about Mr. Madigan's suggestion, but said she was intrigued.

Ms. Grachek, who chairs council's law and criminal justice committee, said she will hold hearings to consider any questions about tougher sex offender laws.

"In the interest of the children, I want to make sure our law would withstand constitutional challenges," she said.

Contact Robin Erb at: robinerb@theblade.com or 419-724-6133.



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